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How Shall We Spend the Sabbath?

from Golden Counsels by D. L. Moody

Dwight L. MoodyThis is a serious question for young and old. When I was a boy, the Sabbath lasted from sundown on Saturday to sundown on Sunday, and I remember how we boys used to shout when the Sabbath was over. It was the worst day in the week to us. I believe it can be made the brightest day in the week. Every child ought to be reared so that he shall be able to say, with a friend, that he would rather have the other six days weeded out of his memory than the Sabbath of his childhood.

"Sabbath" means "rest," and the meaning of the word gives a hint as to the true way to observe the day. God rested after creation, and ordained the Sabbath as a rest for man. "Remember the rest-day to keep it holy." It is the day when the body may be refreshed and strengthened after six days of labor, and the soul drawn into closer fellowship with its Maker.

Suppose some gentleman gave fifty thousand dollars for the purpose of building a new church; what would be said if the gift was applied to build stores or some other building? Yet we are distinctly told that the Sabbath was made for man, and hence it was intended that man should use it as a Sabbath; but how often it is used for other purposes!

Suppose, again, that one man was met on a road by another man to whom he gave six dollars, and kept only one dollar for himself, to pay his expenses to the end of the journey. Suppose the other turned on him, knocked him down, and took away the one dollar, would not his ingratitude arouse our indignation? Yet God ordained the Sabbath that men might have time to worship him; but how often do we rob God of the day!

True observance of the Sabbath may be considered under two general heads: cessation from work, and religious exercises.

A man ought to turn aside from his ordinary employment one day in seven. There are many whose occupation will not permit them to observe Sunday, but they should observe some other day as a Sabbath.

Ministers and missionaries often tell me that they take no rest-day; they do not need it, because they are in the Lord's work. That is a mistake. When God was giving Moses instructions about the building of the tabernacle, he referred especially to the Sabbath, and gave injunctions for its strict observance; and, later, when Moses was conveying the words of the Lord to the children of Israel, he interpreted them by saying that not even were sticks to be gathered on the Sabbath to kindle fires for smelting or other purpose. In spite of their zeal and haste to erect the tabernacle, the workmen were to have their day of rest. The command applies to ministers and others engaged in Christian work to-day as much as to these Israelite workmen of old.

All merely secular work ought to be avoided. An infidel was introduced by a gentleman to a minister, with the remark, "He never attends public worship."

"I hope you are mistaken," said the minister.

"By no means," said the stranger. "I always spend Sunday in settling my accounts."

"Then, sir," was the solemn reply, "you will find that the judgment-day will be spent in the same way."

A woman forgot to send home some washing on Saturday. The next morning she told a little girl that lived with her to take the bundle under her shawl to the lady. "Nobody will see it," she said.

"But isn't it Sunday under my shawl, auntie?" asked the child.

In judging whether any work may or may not be lawfully done on the Sabbath, find out the reason and object for doing it. Exceptions are to be made for works of necessity and works of emergency. By "works of necessity" I mean those acts that Christ justified when he approved of leading one's ox or ass to water. Watchmen, police, stokers on board steamers, and many others, have engagements that necessitate their working on Sunday. By "works of emergency" I mean those referred to by Christ when he approved of pulling an ox or an ass out of a pit on the Sabbath day. In case of fire or sickness a man is often called to do things that would not otherwise be justifiable.

A Christian man was once urged by his employer to work on Sunday. "Does not your Bible say that if your ass falls into a pit on the Sabbath you may pull him out?"

"Yes," replied the other; "but, if the ass had a habit of falling into the same pit every Sabbath, I would either fill up the pit or sell the ass."

The good effect on a nation's health and happiness produced by the return of the Sabbath, with its cessation from work, cannot be overestimated. Lord Beaconsfield said: "Of all divine institutions, the most divine is that which secures a day of rest for man. I hold it to be the most valuable blessing conceded to man. It is the corner-stone of civilization, and its removal might affect even the health of the people." Mr. Gladstone recently told a friend that the secret of his long life is that amid all the pressure of public cares he never forgot the Sabbath, with its rest for the body and the soul. The constitution of the United States protects the president in his weekly day of rest. He has ten days, "Sundays excepted," in which to consider a bill that has been sent to him for signature. Every working man in the republic ought to be as thoroughly protected as the president. If working men got up a strike for no work on Sunday, they would have the sympathy of a good many.

But "rest" does not mean idleness. No man enjoys idleness for any length of time. When one goes on a vacation, one does not lie around doing nothing all the time. Hard work at tennis, fishing, and other pursuits fill the hours. A healthy mind must find something to do.

Hence the Sabbath rest does not mean inactivity. "Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do." The best way to keep off bad thoughts, and to avoid temptation, is to engage in active religious exercises.

As regards these, we should avoid extremes. On the one hand, we find a rigor in Sabbath observance that is nowhere commanded in Scripture, and that reminds one more of the formalism of the Pharisees than of the spirit of the gospel. In former times in Connecticut they had laws like this: "No one shall run on the Sabbath, or walk in his garden or elsewhere, except reverently to and from church." Such strictness does more harm than good. It repels people and makes the Sabbath a burden.

On the other hand, we should jealously guard against a loose way of keeping the Sabbath. Already in many cities the day is profaned openly. Sunday newspapers are issued wholesale, not only turning the minds of readers away from godly things, and thus acting as a positive barrier in the way of religion, but also keeping newsboys away from Sunday school to sell papers, and keeping trains running in order that they may be distributed.

Make the Sabbath a day of religious activity. First of all, of course, is attendance at public worship. "There is a discrepancy," says John McNeill, "between our creed about the Sabbath day and our actual conduct. In many families at ten o'clock on Sunday attendance at church is still an open question. There is no open question on Monday morning— 'John, shall you go to work to-day?"' A minister rebuked a farmer for not attending church, and said, "You know, John, you are never absent from market." "O," was the reply, "we must go to market."

Some one has said that without the Sabbath the church of Christ could not, as a visible organization, exist on earth.

But we must not mistake the means for the end. We must not think that the Sabbath is just for the sake of being able to attend meetings. There are some people that think they must spend the whole day at meetings or in private devotions. The result is that at nightfall they are tired out, and the day has brought them no rest. The number of church services attended ought to be measured by the person's ability to enjoy them, and get good from them, without being wearied. Attending meetings is not the only way to observe the Sabbath. In Lev. 23:3 the Israelites were commanded to keep it in their dwellings as well as in holy convocation. The home, that centre of so great influence over the life and character of people, ought to be made the scene of true Sabbath observance.

Many mothers have written to me at one time or another to know what to do to entertain their children on Sunday. The boys say, "I do wish 't was night," or, "I do hate Sunday," or, "I do wish Sunday was over." It ought to be the happiest day in the week to them, one to be looked forward to with pleasure. In order to this end, many suggestions might be followed. Make family prayers especially attractive by having the children repeat some verse or story from the Bible. Give more time to your children than you can give on week-days, reading to them, and perhaps taking them to walk in the afternoon or evening. Show by your conduct that the Sabbath is a delight, and they will soon catch your spirit. Set aside some time for religious instruction, without making this a task. You can make it interesting for the children by telling Bible stories and asking them to guess the names of the characters. Have Sunday games for the younger children. Picture-books, puzzle-maps of Palestine, etc., can be easily obtained. Sunday albums and Sunday clocks are other devices. Set aside attractive books for Sunday, not letting the children have these during the week. By doing this, and by having extra delicacies at meals, perhaps, the children can be brought to look forward to the day with eagerness and pleasure.

Apart from public and family observance of the Sabbath, the individual ought to devote a portion of the time to his own edification. Prayer, meditation, reading, ought not to be forgotten. Think of men devoting six days a week to their body, which will soon pass away, and begrudging one day to the soul, which will live on and on forever!

If your circumstances permit, engage in some definite Christian work, — such as teaching in Sunday school, or visiting the sick. Do all the good you can. Sin keeps no Sabbath, and no more should good deeds. There is plenty of opportunity in this fallen world to perform works of mercy and of religion. Make your Sabbath down here a foretaste of the eternal Sabbath that is in store for believers.

"If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: ['thine own' as contrasted with what God enjoins], Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it" Isaiah 58:13-14.


Copied for WholesomeWords.org from Golden Counsels by D. L. Moody. Boston: United Society of Christian Endeavor, ©1899.

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